HOUSTON – Houston restaurateur and chef Bruce Molzan is accused of operating an illegal seafood network that could be the largest of its kind in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens.
"The amount of times he did this and the amount of fish he has been moving would suggest to us that yes, this is a network," said game warden Fred Ruiz.
During a two-year investigation that expanded last year, game wardens said Molzan, 59, purchased and sold illegal finfish, which were caught by several unlicensed commercial fishermen, off menus at his then-restaurants at Ruggles Green and Ruggles Black. Another restaurant illegally sold shrimp to Molzan, according to TPWD.
Molzan is no longer affiliated with Ruggles Green as of October 2016.
Game wardens said the network funneled nearly 28,000 pounds of unlawfully caught finfish -- including highly regulated red snapper and other protected game fish species such as tuna, amberjack, grouper and red drum -- through the businesses at a profit of more than $400,000 since at least 2013.
"The actual charges against Bruce Molzan and Ruggles in this investigation are buying from an unlicensed fisherman, not running an organized illegal operation as being falsely reported. These are Class C misdemeanors, the equivalent of a traffic ticket. We are challenging these allegations in court and expect them to be dismissed. We look forward to resolving this matter expeditiously," his attorney, Joel Androphy, said in a statement.
More than 200 Class C misdemeanor citations have been issued in the investigation, which involved Texas game wardens, the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration special agents and the U.S. Coast Guard. NOAA also filed felony charges against two anglers in Freeport in connection with the case.
Loyal customers told Channel 2 News they were disappointed.
"You have faith that it's healthy and it's properly captured and all that, so it makes you lose your confidence in what you're eating," said Gail Culberson.
"This is a big deal and exemplifies the critically important work our Texas game wardens do to protect the state’s natural resources," Col. Craig Hunter, TPWD law enforcement director, said. "Not only did these unscrupulous actors violate recreational fishing regulations at an extreme level for personal profit, but they also circumvented restrictions and rules governing the possession, safe handling and sale of commercial aquatic products intended for human consumption. That is not something we in law enforcement will tolerate, and we are confident these individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows."
Here is a statement from Ruggles Green:
"Today Texas Parks & Wildlife announced findings from an investigation of an illegal seafood network allegedly involving former Ruggles Green co-owner, Bruce Molzan. As of October 1, 2016, Ruggles Green is under new ownership and since that time Mr. Molzan has not been an owner, or involved in the management or operations of the company. Under its new ownership, Ruggles Green has not served any illegal seafood, has not received any citations in connection with this investigation and ensures lawful and sustainable practices. We stand behind our processes to provide guests with the highest quality of food."
Editor's Note: An earlier release from TPWD incorrectly stated Molzan was currently affiliated with Ruggles Green.